I don’t know what to make of the decision of the Church of England not to allow women to become bishops. Technically, but importantly, actually a decision not to change their current policy.
On the one hand it makes heehaw difference to me. I’m not a member of the Church of England. To be blunt, and wearing my militant atheisticalism a little more on my sleeve than I like to think I usually do, the Church of England is wrong about several bigger things than women bishops.
Except, that as an atheist, actually that’s not true. I don’t think there is a god and I think the process most people use to arrive at the conclusion gods exist is flawed. I do think women are equal to men, that humans are equal to other humans, and I think the process I’ve used to arrive at that position is sound. So, being mistaken about something I think doesn’t exist seems to me to be less important than being wrong about something as important and obvious as equal rights.
But then it’s not my church.
Except it is. Sort of. Being the Established Church. Well it’s the Established Church of England but not of Scotland where I live.
But Church of England Bishops get to sit in the House of Lords and make laws that affect me. Well, they do when the policy area isn’t a devolved matter.
Anyhow, electoral reform. I blame First Past the Post. Except it’s not really relevant here. Well, it kind of is.
The constitution of the Church of England seems to have what I would call a Constitutional Conservative Anchor. The constitution is explicitly rigged in favour of the status quo. This appears to be a feature of constitutions and operates to prevent a temporary majority changing the constitution to their long term advantage. A notable exception is our constitution. In order to change the rules on eligibility for bishophood the General Synod requires a two third majority in each of its three houses. On the plus side, this does prevent rules being passed for which there is not persistent and widespread support. On the other it does allow a relatively small number of people to block any reform. It places the right of a minority for things not to change over the right of a majority who want change. Everyone moves or no one does.
This is in marked contrast to the way things would work at the Westminster Parliament. There, using First Past the Post sufficiently motivated and well organised minorities can gain control of the legislative process for a time. If you actually have a popular majority (rather than a popular plurality) then you are pretty much unstoppable.
Were the general Synod operating more like the Westminster Parliament the pro-equality side would have won the vote. But they clearly wouldn’t have won the argument. Those against women bishops clearly feel very strongly about it. No matter the literally open mouthed surprise from My Lovely Wife at their views those who hold them appear to hold them very dearly. So what would their choices have been had the decision been taken by a simple majority? They could leave the Church. But it is their Church. They could meekly accept the will of others. But they think those others are not only wrong but gravely mistaken about the nature of what it means to be part of the Church. They could not so meekly accept the new rules. Accept that they are the rules but complain about them all the time, protest them, not co-operate with newly ordained women bishops. They could seek to reverse the decision.
I imagine all of those would happen to some degree.
To restore the status quo anti the traditionalists would need to gain temporary control of the General Synod and reverse the decision and make things right again. Dealing in some way with those actual women who had actually been made bishops in the meantime. And if they succeeded their now enemies would try to re-gain control of the Synod and reverse the reversal and deal in some way with those men who have been appointed bishops who would not have been had women been eligible at the time. Whomever is left standing at the end of the process may well have won the war but have already lost the peace.
This does not sound like a consensus to me. This sounds like an open sucking wound in the soul of the institution.
What I imagine will happen now is that the Church of England will continue to discuss the issue of the appointment of women bishops during the period when the matter is barred from a vote in Synod. They will try to reach consensus because that is the practical effect of the constitutional rules they have. In a few years they will vote again. If they vote in favour of appointing women bishops then I would have confidence that this decision will be stuck with and that most people in the Church of England will accept it as legitimate. When the change comes I think it will be persistent and enjoy widespread support.
Whilst I think the current decision is wrong I think the eventual final decision will have been made in a better way and enjoy more support and more legitimacy.
So for me it’s an interesting example of how electoral systems affect both the practise and the practical outcome of politics.
I don’t imagine this is much comfort to the many women priests who continue to be barred from practising their ministry or leading their church.
This would all be by-the-by for me. An interesting example of electoral processes in a body which means nothing to me and where I am actively against the founding tenants. A bit like watching the internal appointment process for the manager of Rangers Football Club.
Except that some bishops of the Church of England get to sit in the legislature of my country as of right. No leaders from other religious or philosophical groupings get a bye into the House of Lords. Richard Dawkins has to apply the same way as everyone else. Which is by sucking up to the Prime Minister.
The reform I want for the House of Lords is not for other religions to be able to appoint their leaders into my legislature. I want the whole thing done away with and replaced by an elected body. If you want the Archbishop of Canterbury to sit in the Upper House you get him (or her) elected. But the Constitutional Conservative Anchor that is the House of Lords seems to be reluctant to abolish itself. So I guess I’ll just have to go about building some consensus about Lords Reform.